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A New Volume of Poetry from Vonani Bila: Bilakhulu! – Read an Excerpt and See Photos from the Launch

Vonani Bila


A new volume of poetry by Vonani Bila, Bilakhulu!, was launched recently at David Krut Bookstore in Parkwood, Johannesburg.

The book has been published by Deep South Publishing, and will be distributed by UKZN Press.

Bilakhulu! by Vonani BilaBILAKHULU!About the book

Vonani Bila’s voice in Bilakhulu! is as buoyant and direct as ever; his emotional range is broad, incorporating humour and lament.

These seven narrative poems, ranging from three to 35 pages in length, are grounded in the poet’s family and village, but at the same time making visible the wider forces that impinge on rural life. They are engaging and politically outspoken yet personal, and filled with vitality and humour.

About the author

Vonani Bila was born in 1972 in Shirley village, Limpopo, where he still lives. He is the author of five books of poems in English and eight storybooks for newly literate adult readers in Sepedi, Xitsonga and English. He is a driving force in South African poetry – founding editor of the Timbila poetry journal, publisher of Timbila Books and founder of Timbila Writers’ Village, a rural retreat centre for writers.

Married with three children, Bila teaches in the Department of English Studies at the University of Limpopo, and in the MA in Creative Writing at Rhodes University. He was the first black editor of literary journal New Coin.

Bila writes for everyone: “I believe in poetry’s ability to cut across frontiers. It transmits its poison or honey to readers or potential readers in aeroplanes, airconditioned university lecture rooms, mansions, hotel en suites and to their children who roam around our colossal shopping malls. Poetry’s readers may also be found in barbershops, spaza shops, or village schools somewhere in Limpopo, or under trees, in hair and beauty salons, in taxis and bus stations, taverns, churches, stokvels, threadbare soccer fields, or jazz pubs.”

Read an excerpt from “Autobiography”, courtesy of Deep South Publishers:

I was born in 1972
Where Mudzwiriti River swelled over roads and boulders
But nothing green grew in Gazankulu Bantustan
Even plants and trees and shrubs
Even the animals and birds and reptiles
Even the mountains and lakes and streams
Felt the pain of apartheid war
I still live here in the backwoods
With the common people
Warming ourselves around bonfires

I’ve slept in grand sky-scraping hotels
And villas of the world’s jaw-dropping cities –
My name is inscribed in books, postcards, newspapers, zines and films
But I’ve never been active on Facebook or Twitter
When I finally sleep
I want to be folded neatly
Planted into a family cemetery
Head facing east
Please my children, don’t pile up goods on the grave
The rain will wash my memory away
The sun will dry them and wild fire will burn me to ashes
Please my children, don’t be foolish and chop the trees
I planted with passion
They’re your future oxygen, bread and soup

Though I possess no clattering wheel
Or a bike spoke and chain
I’ve lived like a swallow –
Weaving nests across the mountains and oceans
I’ve ridden in rickshas, buses, trains, planes and dilapidated taxis
In boats, motorbikes and donkey carts
I’ve been chauffeured in bombastic cars
To attend meetings with ministers,
Social movements, artists, culture gurus, donors, NGOs and professors
The woman at the Polokwane Airport check-in counter
Feels pity for my wife in the village as I fly out to cities on Fridays

I grew up in a mud hut
Drank water from the wells
Slept on the itchy majekejeke mat on a cowdung-smeared floor
At 10, I was still wetting myself in the night
The millipede powder couldn’t stop the habit either
I showered from a plastic basin
Often used a water-filled mug to wipe my face
And extinguished the rotten rat wreaking havoc in my armpits
But I’ve also lived in an apartment with portraits
And tidy rooms for visitors
And yes, I’ve also lived in an apartment with racing roaches
And wet laundry

I grew up using a long-drop toilet
Newspaper, mugabagaba and guava tree leaves wiping my backside
Others used stones and bare hands to clean themselves in the bush
Later I enjoyed steam baths and massage in spas
Sat in armchairs, rode a horse and walked on red carpets
One day I may receive a Nobel Prize for Literature
Like Neruda, Brodsky and Szymborska

* * * * *

from “Ancestral Wealth”

If you were alive today, madala –
You would tell me about that rope
That roamed in your nightmares
The rope that made you so impatient
That made you hate everything about your wife
The rope that made you hit her
And want to kill her with a knife
The rope of which prophet Muvhangeli said:
U nga yi rhwaleli loko u yi vona endleleni ya wena
(Don’t pick it up when you find it placed on your path)
The tough rope of wicked relatives
Who had long sized your neck

If you were alive today, madala –
You would tell me how you and Ngholeni picked up that dead rabbit
Early in the morning on your way to work
How you skinned the rabbit with delight
How you wanted to cook it for lunch
When suddenly a strange man came
And touched your forehead
And said, “and hi yena papantsongo wa Frank.”
Then your forehead ached and pounded
And when you came back home from work
The same strange man
Hobbled to your house
All he said was one sentence:
I needed to find Frank’s brother’s place
Then he vanished
Stealing your heart
Placing it in a cave
Planting a cockerel’s heart in you
And you coughed and coughed


Papa, I know it took us twenty years to erect your tombstone
All along the wind was blowing you away
The sun was burning you
Your pillow was your hand
But now Bila, Mhlahlandlela, rest in peace
Do not open the grave and come home wearing shorts
Since you left, your wife has remained in the house
I’ve not seen a man sitting on your chair
It’s still your house
Full of trees and vegetables

7/8 u ya lithanda isaka la mazambani
U ya lithanda isaka la mazambani

* * * * *

View some photographs from the recent launch of Bilakhulu! at David Krut Bookstore in Johannesburg, taken by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee:

Book details


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